Michael Sigel won the Paragliding World Cup Superfinal in Colombia in January in a competition that came down to the wire as Michael and Nicola Donini in second went head-to-head over a 93.7km task.
Thank you. It was special because of the last day. It was long, we had a lot of shade and it was slow. I knew Nicola could beat me if he won, so if he was flying good I had to fly good too.
The whole comp actually came down to the last thermal…
Sometimes I was in front, then Nicola was in front – “Now I’m safe… Now not!” And then he took a different line! He escaped with a group of four or five strong pilots. They managed to pull away while we were stuck in shade.
Did you chase him?
I was pushing more to the right, and it wasn’t paying off. Everyone from my gaggle, 30 or 40 pilots, bombed out. I was the only one who survived.
I have no idea! I pulled away into the flats alone and I got a zero. I thought if I circle here and pretend I’m climbing they will come and join me! I lost 50-100m doing that. They finally arrived and all of a sudden, half of the field was higher, half was lower, and together we found something. All of a sudden I was the highest.
They were struggling to the east. I took the turnpoint, went to goal and got a good thermal on the way. I left with a glide-to-goal of 10 and made goal with 100m. I thought if I could get to goal then I should win. The four others, including Nicola, came in behind me. I’d won!
How do you cope with that sort of pressure?
Badly! When I’m in the game I flow and I forget about the results. But then all of a sudden you have to look around and think, “Where is Nicola?” as that is a big part of the game, knowing where the others are.
In Roldanillo the gaggle is like a swarm – do you enjoy that?
Yes and no. Sometimes it’s impossible to pull away, but one day I won with six minutes ahead. It’s still possible to get away. But it’s true that especially in the flats the gaggle is usually always right. But you have to push ahead to get the points.
How about the crowded thermals?
It was horrible to be honest. Pilots are getting more aggressive. This comp had a lot of mid-airs, I’ve never seen so many. It’s not only aggressive flying, it’s also turning in the wrong direction or coming straight into the thermal. Crazy.
How do you deal with that?
After the task I went to the pilots and told them in a gentle way, “Hey, what you did was not correct, and if you do it again I will report it and you will score zero.” I didn’t see them flying aggressively again. It’s not right. It is also completely unnecessary. I’m one of those who lets others in or leaves the thermal – and I never lose! You don’t need to fly like that.
How did you get into flying?
My parents had one of the first paragliding schools in Switzerland. I had my own tiny glider, but I really started to fly when I was 15. I joined the Advance serial team at 17, then into the Swiss league. Now I’m 30.
And you work for Gin?
I joined Gin after I won my first World Cup in Colombia in 2011. I was studying Geography and Sports at Bern University, so I went to South Korea two or three times a year for testing. Now I do testing, R&D, marketing and communications.
You flew 533km in Brazil in November, the longest flight of the season…
I was there with a Swiss team, supported by the Swiss Federation, as part of a new Swiss XC league that we started last year. Chrigel Maurer is behind it. The idea is we fly open XC in Switzerland and have one big trip to chase records each year.
You were towing – a new concept for Brazil
Andy Flühler came up with the idea. The problem is you need wind to fly more than 500km. With towing, even if the wind is strong it’s OK. There is no lee-side. The first day the two Brazilian guys with us were preparing at 6am. And we were like no way, we will prepare for 8 o’clock. And they took off and they were gone! We were, “WTF?!” The best days we took off at 6.30am. As soon as the sun is out there are thermals. But we never had strong wind. Our maximum full-speed was usually 70-80km/h. I heard on the record days in Tacima they had 100km/h.
Any plans for this season in the Alps?
There is this magical 300km FAI triangle in Switzerland that has never been done. We are all aiming for that. It’s doable, but ambitious!
Superfinal results at pwca.org. This interview was first published in Cross Country Magazine 188, April 2018